Part treasure hunt, part political thriller, part island comedy.
In clipped, staccato prose, Merry (The Golden Altar, 2003) tells the story of George MacGregor, a junior supervisor at a cable communications company in the Latin American nation of Maraguay–a role that affords him the pivotal opportunity to cut off contact with the outside world when his young military friends stage a coup to oust the country’s corrupt dictator. The British national becomes a key member of the new ruling junta, overseeing treaty renewals and dodging assassination attempts between lavish meals and outings with beautiful, loose women. The action-driven plot keeps readers from forming attachments to the characters and makes their motivations mysterious. Though the omission of George’s reasoning for following a power-hungry acquaintance to overthrow the government of a foreign country may be due to authorial oversight, the ambiguity also adds intrigue and is a reason to keep turning pages through a somewhat technical, militaristic description of the violent takeover. The revolutionary zeal that accompanies their victory proves contagious, and the moral uncertainty that prevails as readers begin to relate to the self-interested leaders is tantalizing. The junta rules according to a scheme–hold elections that give the impression of democracy without allowing time for a real opposition party to form–that is brilliant in its cynicism, but the resulting four decades of prosperity question whether openness and honest popular representation are the most effective ways to run a nation. Then, as the narrative risks becoming too serious, a clownish character, Felipe, regales the other top government men with his misogynistic antics as comic relief. The cheating-husband yarns complement the borderline oppressive masculine tone that is prevalent throughout the chronicle, where a tropical locale provides a formulaic setting for men to prove their might through bellicose valor and exotic seductions.
A fast-paced plot keeps readers titillated, if not awed, in a novel that details a cunning nation-building strategy.